2019 Spring Contest Winner: 3rd Place, Poet’s Choice

Observing the Arsonist

by Colette Jonopulos  

Long sigh of a summer worn thin

from brush fires you’ve conjured

for the camera. You’ve devoured the hillsides,

left wretched smell of pulp and water,

remnants of people’s trash.


            —you know even after you turn away, they are talking about you


Your work appears stark in black and white ash.

Whir of your unseen shutter, each frame

singed at the edges of loss the width

of your childhood.


We are on fire

in our separate houses,

lit from too much harboring,

our containment explosive.


Can you hear the train’s whistle from there?

Metal on metal clacking, smooth on

smooth turning.


Say it again but louder: this is how it should be

children sleeping fitfully while wild grasses

sway in soft evening air

everything unharmed and eternal

love without end


Dogs have snapped their chains,

run to piles of your refuse, charred

compost broken down to silt.

It is yours to dream of, yours to

pick through and hoard.


I am watching you watch your ruins

through a lens with many eyes.

I am handing you a glass jar

to fill with ash, the tiny

bones of animals.


            —this is not a gift


You strike the match along a memory of grief,

a childhood you did not know, and I forgive

you. And what you want is not forgiveness

but heat that burns away the house, the

hands, the breath, the body plundered.


Fire begins in the corner, no one

notices until it has crawled the walls.

A fire, a train whistle, so alike. Both bite

through us, only one devours

our houses as we sleep.


Poet bio

Colette Jonopulos writes and edits in Denver, Colorado. She hikes in the Rocky Mountains as often as possible, and spends her summers camping and investigating backroads. Her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Alimentum, Clackamas Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Bellingham Review, cho, Presence and Ekphrasis. She is co-editor and co-owner of Tiger’s Eye Press.

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